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The Saints of South Elmham

Wide open views and huge expanses of working arable farmland on a walk through Saints Country.

Distance 8.7 miles (14.1km)

Minimum time 4hrs

Ascent/gradient 295ft (90m)

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Field paths, meadows and country lanes, 3 stiles

Landscape Arable farmland and sweeping views

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 231 Southwold & Bungay

Start/finish TM 306833

Dog friendliness On lead across farmland

Parking South Elmham Hall free car park

Public toilets None on route

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1 From the car park, walk between the trees and cross the moat on a permissive path. Take the footbridge over a stream and keep straight ahead across the meadow. Go through a gate and turn left along a green lane enclosed by hedges. At a junction of tracks, turn left and walk across the meadows to the site of the minster, a romantic ruin enclosed by trees.

2 After visiting the minster, continue straight ahead along the line of the hedge and turn left at the end of the next meadow to cross a footbridge and climb on a field-edge path. Turn right at the road and after 300yds (274m) turn left on to a quiet lane. Stay on this lane as it bends to the right and continue for ¾ mile (1.2km).

3 Cross the main road and keep straight ahead on a grassy field-edge path. Pass through a hedge, cross the next field and turn right beyond the hedge. Walk beside this hedge for ½ mile (800m) until you come to a junction where you turn right on to a cross-field path that becomes a wide track. Turn left at a crossroads and walk across the fields with a water tower to your right to reach St Michael's Church.

4 Turn left along the road. After ½ mile (800m), cross a humpback bridge and stay on this road to climb to St Peter's Church. Follow the road round to the right past the entrance to St Peter's Hall, then turn left across a plank bridge to walk beside the moat. The path swings right then left, following the line of a hedge between open fields.

5 At a junction of paths, turn left along a field-edge track, waymarked 'Angles Way'. This soon becomes a grassy lane and then a pebbled farm drive. Cross a road and keep straight ahead on a concrete track.

6 Turn left at the next road to pass Mushroom Farm and, in 300yds (274m), go right on a field-edge path. After ½ mile (800m), you reach a junction of paths with a half-white, half-weatherboarded farmhouse visible to your right. Turn left to climb towards a small wood and continue through the woods. Go through a gate, cross a stream and climb the green lane to a road.

7 Turn left then right in 300yds (274m) on to a lane signposted 'South Elmham Hall'. Follow this lane round to the right to return to the start.

The scattered group of parishes which makes up South Elmham is collectively known as Saints Country. This is an area of high arable farmland, with huge skies and endless views, punctuated by little villages with the names of St James, St Margaret, St Michael, St Nicholas, St Peter, St Cross and All Saints.

Although there is no firm evidence for this, it is believed that South Elmham was an important religious centre in Anglo-Saxon times. South Elmham Hall, where the walk begins, is a 16th-century moated manor house on the site of an old hunting lodge and deer park used by the bishops of Norwich. It was an 11th-century bishop, Herbert de Losinga, who built the minster here, possibly over the ruins of a 7th-century wooden church. The historian Bede refers to an Anglo-Saxon see at Elmham, which may either have been here or at North Elmham in Norfolk. We know that Felix of Burgundy arrived in Suffolk to convert East Anglia to Christianity and established his cathedral at Dunwich. South Elmham, 14 miles (22.6km) inland, would have made an obvious spot for a second church.

The present owners of South Elmham Hall, John and Jo Sanderson, have opened their land to walkers and made a number of environmental improvements under a countryside stewardship scheme designed to ensure a balance between farming and conservation. New hedgerows have been planted and green corridors have been established alongside all of the fields, providing paths for walkers and important habitats for wildlife. Come here at dusk and you may be lucky enough to see barn owls swooping for mice and voles. Although the route of the walk mostly uses public rights of way, there is also an extensive network of permissive paths across the farm, which includes parkland, arable fields and pasture for a herd of British White cattle.

At the mid-point of the walk you have the chance to visit St Peter's Hall, a 13th-century moated farmhouse that was extended in 1539 using materials from the abandoned Flixton Priory. This magnificent house is now home to St Peter's Brewery, which produces traditional ales from local barley and malt and water from a deep bore-hole below the hall. Among the beers that they have revived are Suffolk Gold, wheat beer, honey porter, spiced winter ale, elderberry beer and a millennium brew dating back to the year 1000 and containing juniper and nettles but no hops. The shop is open every day for you to buy beer to take home but the best time to visit is at weekends (Friday to Sunday) when you can take a tour of the brewery and sample the beers in the lovely old bar.

What to look for

Take a close look at the sundial outside St Michael's Church, with its admonishing inscription 'Why stand gazing? Be about your business.' Inside the church, look for the roll of honour to the 11 local men who served in World War One. St Michael was one of just 31 'thankful villages' in England where all the men returned safely.

Where to eat and drink

There are only two options on the walk and both are open for limited hours. Bateman's Barn Café, at South Elmham Hall, serves lunches, teas and home-made cakes on Sundays and also on Thursdays and Fridays in summer. The bar and restaurant at St Peter's Hall are open from Friday to Sunday throughout the year. At other times you will need to take a picnic.

While you're there

The nearby town of Bungay is full of historic buildings and interesting little cafés and shops. The main attractions are the 17th-century Butter Cross in the Market Place and the ruined 12th-century Bigod's Castle, built by the notorious warlord Hugh Bigod. Just outside Bungay, at Earsham, is the Otter Trust, where otters are prepared for their reintroduction to the wild in a tranquil setting beside the River Waveney.

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